Hindu Holi Festival

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Holi (Hindi: होली Punjabi: ਹੋਲੀ) is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus as a festival of colours.

Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating events present in Hindu mythology. Although it is the least religious holiday, it is probably one of the most exhilarating ones.

During this event, participants hold a bonfire, throw colored powder at each other, and celebrate wildly. As one of the major festivals of India and Nepal, Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar.

Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different states might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is the spirit of it which remains the same throughout the country and wherever else it is celebrated.

The festival of Holi is celebrated because of a story in the old Hindu religion. In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra”. Consequently, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praising respectfully to him.

According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, who also could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. For the boon of Holika worked only when she entered the fire alone. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. Since that time, people light a bonfire, called Holika on the eve of Holi festival and celebrate the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion to god.

Children take special delight in the tradition and this has another legend attached to it. It says that there was once an ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Prithu. She was chased away by children on the day of Holi. Therefore, children are allowed to play pranks at the time of ‘Holika Dahan’.

Holika Dahan
On the eve of Holi, called Chhoti or Small Holi people gather at important crossroads and light huge bonfires, the ceremony is called Holika Dahan. To render greatfulness to Agni, god of Fire, gram and stalks from the harvest are also offered. Ash left from this bonfire is also considered sacred and people apply it on their foreheads to protect them from evil forces.

The entire country becomes festive when it is time for Holi celebration. Women start making early preparations for the holi festival as they cook loads of gujiya, mathri and papri for the family and also for the relatives. At some places specially in the north women also make papads and potato chips at this time. Market places get abuzz with activity as frenzied shoppers start making preparations for the festival.

Pichkaris in innovative and modern design come up every year to lure the children who wish to collect them as Holi memorabilia and, of course, to drench everybody in the town. Heaps of various hues of gulal and abeer can be seen on the roadside days before the festival.

Play of Colors
Great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the play of colours. Shops and offices remain closed for the day and people get all the time to get crazy and whacky. Bright colours of gulal and abeer fill the air and people take turns in pouring colour water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colours on one another with their pichkaris and throwing water balloons and passers by. Women and senior citizen form groups called tolis and move in colonies – applying colours and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the other highlights of the day.

There is also a tradition of consuming the very intoxicating bhang on this day to further enhance the spirit of Holi. It is so much fun to watch the otherwise sober people making a clown of themselves in full public display. Some, however, take bhang in excess and spoil the spirit. Caution should therefore be taken while consuming bhang delicacies.

Sober Evening
After a funfilled and exciting day, the evenings the spent in sobriety when people meet friends and relatives and exchange sweets and festive greetings.

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